Even though cannabis slows the movement of the digestive system, research suggests cannabis is still an effective treatment for constipation.
Cannabis, also referred to as “marijuana,” is a product derived from the cannabis sativa plant. It’s a cannabinoid, which means it’s a substance that can activate the cannabinoid receptors in your body — including those in your gut.
While many people use cannabis recreationally, the medical uses for it are growing. Emerging
- antispasmodic, a type of medication that help reduce muscle spasms through the central nervous system
- appetite stimulant, a type of medication that can increase appetite
In addition to these areas, there may be some therapeutic use for cannabis in constipation, even though cannabis use slows down movement through much of the gastrointestinal (GI) system.
Cannabis vs. marijuana
We use the term “cannabis” instead of “marijuana.”
We avoid the word “marijuana” because it has
Cannabis is known to slow gastric motility, the speed at which food passes through the GI system and out of the body.
Slow gastric motility can be a cause of infrequent, difficult-to-pass stool. So at first glance, it would make sense to assume cannabis causes constipation.
That’s not necessarily true, however.
Why cannabis may be beneficial in constipation remains a mystery. The study’s authors suggest that several theories exist to explain the paradoxical findings involving lesser-known agents in cannabis.
For example, less-known and less-studied active ingredients in cannabis may improve movement through the colon. This can negate or modify the anti-motility effects of well-studied cannabinoid agents like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
It’s also possible that hundreds of other active ingredients and cannabinoids in cannabis may have pro-motility effects on non-cannabinoid receptors that have yet to be discovered.
Despite these findings, cannabis isn’t considered a first-line treatment approach for constipation. It remains an area of current research, with benefits and drawbacks for digestive health.
Among many other actions, cannabis can provide pain relief and anti-inflammatory responses in the digestive tract.
Long-term (prolonged) cannabis use can have negative impacts on your digestive health.
Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) is another paradoxical GI condition related to cannabis. It’s characterized by episodes of severe vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain after cannabis use — the very symptoms it’s sometimes used to treat.
CHS is a rare condition. According to
Cannabis for gut health — or not?
The verdict is still out on whether cannabis is good or bad for your gut.
According to a 2017 review, literature seems to support the use of cannabis for treatment of certain digestive disorders, even though clinical efficacy is unclear.
Cannabis activates the cannabinoid receptors in your gut. These receptors, part of your body’s endocannabinoid system, affect various physiological functions.
- modulate GI motility through smooth muscle regulation
- alter the gut microbiome
- regulate nutrient absorption
- stimulate hunger and reduce feelings of fullness (satiety)
- promote the intake of dietary fat and “eating for pleasure”
- initiates digestion
- decrease GI inflammation
Cannabis may not be a first-line choice for treating constipation, but you can find relief through less controversial methods.
Options that may help relieve constipation include:
- increasing your dietary fiber and water intake
- getting regular physical activity
- trying to have a bowel movement at the same time every day
- using over-the-counter products like stool softeners, laxatives, enemas, or fiber supplements
- holistic approaches, like massage
If you can’t manage constipation using home treatments, your doctor can prescribe medications. Changing the medications you’re currently taking that contribute to constipation might also be necessary.
Surgery and biofeedback therapy, which helps retrain the muscles that control bowel movements, are also options for severe forms of constipation.
The relationship between cannabis and constipation is contradictory (paradoxical). Generally speaking, cannabis use slows down the speed at which food passes through your body. This can contribute to constipation.
Despite this, research suggests that cannabis lowers the chances of experiencing constipation. This phenomenon may be due to undiscovered mechanisms in the endocannabinoid system that change the known effects of cannabinoids like THC.